Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Orthorexia the next Eating Disorder?

Holistic physician Steven Bratman coined the term 'orthorexia nervosa' in an October 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. In an article titled Health Food Junkie, he wrote "Orthorexia begins innocently enough as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet that differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty dose of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what to eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic's day".

In our current social and cultural environment, spiritual practices and the art of mindfulness have become increasingly popular. With books such as Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, Deepak Chopra's SynchroDestiny, Echkart Tolle's A New Earth and Paul Coelho's The Alchemist (all of which I highly recommend), we are encouraged to look at the connection between thought, feeling and behaviour, and learn to alter our thought processes to create a greater sense of joy, optimism and inner peace.

However, applying these principles to a strict dietary regime where the drive for nutritional purity is the motivator, can have devastating effects on physical and emotional wellbeing.

There is some cynicism around the term 'orthorexia'. Kelly Brownell, PhD, codirector of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders says "we've never had anybody come to our clinic with orthorexia and I've been working in this field for at least 20 years."

Joshua Rosenthal, founder and director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, counsels individuals to look at the impact eating the 'right' food can have on their life. "This condition can impede other important elements of life, including relationships, creativity ... I call these elements of life primary food - the parts that fill our soul and satisfy our hunger for living."

Similarly, in my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a section that shows the steps to take to create a life that is rich and fulfilling, and how to introduce those life elements such as a rewarding job, a creative passion and the joy of healthy relationships, that ultimately eclipse the eating disorder.

In this new age era, orthorexia may well be the next eating disorder. However, the search for meaning is universal and if we can show sufferers how to channel that unyielding willpower into the things that bring them joy, instead of self destructive behaviours, this will go a long way in promoting recovery.

More information: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4734

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